Why Women Love a Tortured Hero

Posted by: Charlotte Boyett-Compo

He was quiet on the ride out to the condo. His hand was clamped securely around Kaycee’s as he stared out the window. Every now and then, he would rub his free hand up and down his thigh. Dermot had brought new jeans, a T-shirt, and clean socks and underwear to the hospital. Surprisingly, Danny had donned the boxers without a word.

Seeing her lover rubbing his thigh, she squeezed his hand to get his attention. When he looked around at her, she smiled. “I hate breaking in new jeans, don’t you?” Kaycee asked quietly.

“Yeah,” he said, and turned away from her again, continuing to rub his thigh.

“Does your leg hurt, baby?”

“No.” He stopped the incessant rubbing and seemed to make a conscious effort to refrain from starting up again. He clenched his fist and stuck it between him and the side of the car.

From the excerpt you know something bad has happened to the hero. There is darkness looming over him, shadowing him, pressing in to possess him. It is suffocating his soul but–like the heroine–there is nothing we can do for him although we feel his pain. Time will bring everything to a head and once there, the heroine will help him get through the dark days.

For the next hour Kaycee worked vigorously to take her mind off the dark, hurtful shadows she’d seen in her man’s eyes. He looked like one of the walking wounded and it cut her to the quick to see the way he flinched at the smallest sound and seemed to have to steel himself to be touched by anyone other than her. She tried to get her mind off brutal images of him being assaulted, but they would not go away. By the time she had the stove turned low for the lasagna filling to simmer, she had gone over the scene in her subconscious more times than was healthy for her own state of mind.

Danny was lying on his side facing the doorway when she came into the bedroom.

The reader was there when he was hurt, saw what had been done to him, and now is mentally encouraging the heroine on how to go about drawing him from the despair that is eating him alive. Instinctively, it is the same advice a seasoned mother would give to a new one: Speak softly. Touch him gently. Be there if and when the dam breaks and the emotion comes pouring out. Hold our your arms and if he comes to them, wrap them securely around him and hold him.

He caressed her face then let his hand fall away. He looked directly into her eyes. “He told you what happened to me, didn’t he?”

She tensed but kept her voice neutral. “Yes, he did.”

He lowered his eyes.

A long moment passed.

“You want to talk about it?” she asked.

“No,” he said—too quickly, too emphatically.

“What do you want, sweetie?” she asked.

“I want you to hold me,” he said.

“I think that can be arranged,” she said, and enveloped him in her arms, pulling him to her so his head rested on her shoulder.

Most women are driven by a very strong maternal instinct. It is an ingrained, systems-included program that kicks into overdrive whenever someone they love is sad or injured or in need. It isn’t always a conscious thought on their part. Something needs soothing, sooth it. Something needs mending, mend it. Someone needs comfort, see to it. Kiss the boo-boo. Make the hurt go away.

I’ve always heard it said that women are more partial to their sons than their daughters–just as some men favor their daughters over their sons. Never having had a daughter I can’t say for sure how I would have acted around one had I been given the chance. I can tell you, however, that I was–and still am–fiercely protective of my sons. I have engaged in many verbal battles over the years with those who hurt my boys and came very close to exchanging actual physical blows with one particularly nasty cub scout den mother–may her crotch be infested with a thousand fire ants.

All my protective instincts came to the fore when my boys were threatened and even today when one is going through the pains of divorce, I would gladly stomp his soon to be ex into a greasy puddle for all the hurt she’s put him through. Hey, given the chance, that might happen yet!

There may be the old saying about hell having no fury like a woman scorned, but there is nothing in this world as vicious, as mean, as unstoppable as a mama bear whose cub is being threatened. It doesn’t matter if that cub is three years old or thirty. Son or husband, lover or friend. Mess with the cub, you get the mama!

Think of tortured heroes as wounded little cubs who are in need of soothing. They may be big and powerful and dangerous in their own right but when they are down, they are hurt, they are in pain, they revert to little boys in need of a mommy. They may pout. They may bluster. They may bark but in the end, they turn to mush under the calming, gentling hand of their lady. (Don’t believe me? Ask any woman who has ever had to nurse a big, strapping male back to health how hard was the row she had to hoe with him. He didn’t make it easy for her and the old adage ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’ is all too true.)

It is the maternal, protective streak in us that makes us want to kiss the hero and make him better, to ease his pain, to hold his troubles at bay. Even alpha males who are arrogant and self-centered turn to putty in the hands of a woman who is hell-bent on taking away his hurt. When those gorgeous brown eyes look up at her with agony lurking there, all she wants to do is put her arms around him, smooth back his tousled hair and kiss his fevered brow. Fortunately for those who love that aspect in romance novel, the heroine gets a lot of practice at easing the hero’s pain.

Women readers are drawn to strong men who take charge. The alpha males of most romance novels are men turned out from that mold. There is the prerequisite that they be handsome, tall, dark and brawny with a wry sense of humor and unwavering loyalty to those for whom they care. But vulnerability is also a strong selling point when a writer is creating a hero. Such men give off a certain air of invincibility, but the reader knows better. She knows there is something lurking in his past–or present–that has the ability to cripple him physically or emotionally or both. She sees it coming and she knows he’ll eventually crumble beneath the weight of his pain. She expects the heroine to be there for him, to take his hand, to put his world to rights, to bolster him up and see that he once again stands tall and true. If that doesn’t happen in the storyline, the gods help the author because he/she’s gonna hear about it!

Our glorious tortured hero must be thrown into the crucible, dredged through the fire to be forged into a stronger man. The reader understands this and is expecting the heroine to understand it, as well. She is counting on the heroine to get the job done. When the last tear is wiped away, the last drop of blood washed off, that last lock of thick brown hair has been smoothed back, the contented reader can wipe away her own tears then sigh with relief.

The love between the hero and heroine has been strengthened by the test of fire. He has been deemed worthy; she has been deemed his equal. He has overcome all the debilitating obstacles with her help and there is nothing standing in the way of the Happily Ever After ending he deserves.

If only real life was like that…

Excerpts from IN THE ARMS OF THE WIND, available from Ellora’s Cave.

May the Wind be always at your back,
Charlotte “Charlee” Boyett~Compo

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One Response to “Why Women Love a Tortured Hero”

  1. Jennifer A. Ray Says:

    I am always a sucker for romances with a tortured hero! There is something about a big, heroic guy that needs his woman to help him with something no one else could help him with…

    Thanks, Charlotte!

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